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Tan Boon Hui's Notebook from Venice


Tan Boon Hui's Notebook from Venice
Stan Douglas, Doppelgänger, 2019, Two Channel Video Installation. All Images courtesy of Tan Boon Hui

The juggernaut arrives yet again. This May, the art world converged on Venice for the 58th iteration of the Biennale Arte 2019. Curated by Ralph Rugoff, director of London's Hayward Gallery, the exhibition opened against an earlier wave of controversy due to the use of a fake Chinese curse for the title 'May You Live In Interesting Times' which to some commentators was perpetuating an orientalist fantasy. While not always the first past the post on capturing the latest developments in global artistic practice, the mother of all biennales is often a good barometer of where the generally acceptable trends and subjects for contemporary art are at the moment.

George Condo's Double Elvis, 2019

What's a Biennale without a star turn or two? Art market darling George Condo's Double Elvis, 2019, opens the show at the Arsenale. Condo once worked for Warhol, and this eye-catching work is an obvious tribute to Andy Warhol's multiplied celebrity images but its expressionistic strokes and energy are very removed from Warhol's cool pop images.


From Martine Gutierrez's 'Body En Thrall' series 

One of the most striking works in the Arsenale is Martine Gutierrez's Body En Thrall, a series of glossy photographs produced for the artist's Indigenous Woman magazine. The title of each image refers to the page number in the publication. In these images (p120 illustrated), the femme fatale (the artist herself) confronts the viewer in meticulously staged photographs in which all other figures are mannequins, making bare the constructed nature of the mass media image, opening up the potential for fake news and other tools of manipulation. 


Njideka Akumyili Crosby's 'Janded', 2013

The curated exhibition made a serious attempt to inject diversity into its presentation, including artists of color, social-political works, and an embrace of female artists. 

A series of portraits by the LA-based artist Njideka Akumyili Crosby demonstrates her experience as a member of the Nigerian diaspora. In Janded (2013), a young woman sports a western hairstyle but also displays her Yoruba tribal scar across her cheek. 


Stan Douglas, Doppelgänger, 2019, Two Channel Video Installation

Video, while not a dominant feature of the show as in some previous iterations, was exceptionally strong this year. Most of the strong pieces were narrative in nature and long. If you can get a seat, don't miss Stan Douglas' sci-fi thriller Doppelgänger in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. Other stand-outs are Kahlil Joseph's BLKNWS (2018-ongoing) and Jon Rafman's Dream Journal 2018-2019 (2019), a fantastical computer animated film over an hour long.


Indonesia's Handiwirman Saputra brought pride to Southeast Asia when he was selected for the curated show at the Arsenale where he displayed one of his mysterious sculptures. 


A sign of the global nature of contemporary art was the presence of standout national pavilions from countries as diverse as Ghana, Singapore, USA, India. Lithuania won the Best Pavilion award for its opera about the threat of climate change.


From left, MF Husain's Zamin/Zameen (1955), Shakuntala Kulkarni sculptures and photographs, 2010-2012

Our Time for a Future Caring at the India Pavilion commemorated 150 years of Gandhi's birth.


Martin Puryear, Swallowed Sun (Monstrance and Volute), 2019

Martin Puryear's Swallowed Sun (Monstrance and Volute) looms over the entrance to his solo presentation at the US Pavilion in Venice


Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir's installation

Iceland had one of the most joyous, almost wacky pavilions. Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir's immersive environment made of synthetic hair is Instagram ready and worth the trek to its fringe location


Song Ming Ang's Music for Everyone: Variation on a Theme

Singapore had one of the best locations in the Arsenale and this year brought Song-Ming Ang's Music for Everyone: Variation on a Theme to the Biennale.

One should not miss the many outstanding exhibitions that occur alongside the Biennale all over the city.

Sean Scully's Opulent Ascension 

Sean Scully's 10-meter high Opulent Ascension at the 16th-century Benedictine church of Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore, a highlight of his solo exhibition 'Human'.


Zhao Zhao, Jade-Constellation, 2018

Zhao Zhao, Jade-Constellation, 2018, Faurschou Foundation in Venice: Entropy at Fondazione Giorgio Cini, San Giorgio Maggiore Island


Read our latest coverage of the 2019 Venice Biennale and the Asian Pavilions by clicking here

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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